Laura Betz, assistant professor of English and Director of Undergraduate Studies in her department, focuses on Romantic-era poetry and literature. A leader within Notre Dame’s English Department, Professor Betz has taught a range of courses including the English major gateway courses, “Introduction to Poetry” and “Heroes and the Heroic in Literature.” Scholastic spoke to Professor Betz to find out more about her writing and teaching.
1. What is your favorite publication about?
It is difficult to choose. Over time, two novels I have loved rereading and teaching are Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” and Charlotte Bronte’s “Jane Eyre.” Of course, I am not the only one to name these books as favorites. But I am always amazed at the new things I notice each time I teach them. With “Pride and Prejudice,” I enjoy the narrator’s voice, the energy of and around Elizabeth Bennet as a figure in the novel and the way Austen is constantly busy highlighting certain characters and also grouping and comparing characters.
With “Jane Eyre,” I always find power in Jane’s story of self-discovery, which is at times heartbreaking but ultimately triumphant, as well as in the novel’s figurative richness and the intensity and drama of its language more generally. I cannot answer this question without also mentioning John Clare, the late Romantic poet on whom my work has recently focused. I enjoy Clare for his concrete, on-the-ground treatments of nature, the ease and yet at times mysterious quality of his poetic voice and his totally provocative, unconventional use of received forms like the sonnet — all of which is exciting because it invites us to rethink how we define “the Romantic.”
2. What is unique about the English Department/program at the University of Notre Dame?
Notre Dame’s English Department offers a special combination of top-notch research and teaching. It is impressive that the faculty can put such energy, creativity and talent into both of these areas; it makes for a close-knit community, which is another thing that distinguishes our department. You put all of this together with some of the things that make Notre Dame unique as a school overall — its history and tradition, and its special strengths in such areas as Irish language and literature and Medieval Studies — and you have a recipe for a wonderful English Department. I’m proud to be a member of the department and find it a real pleasure.
3. Since a new decade has begun, what do you hope to accomplish within the next ten years?
I hope to continue to work on John Clare but also expand the topics I take up in scholarship. I hope to continue teaching the English major-level and freshman courses I’ve already developed, which I really enjoy, and add some new ones in such areas as poetry and poetics, Austen and the Brontës, and the coming-of-age genre. I hope to continue to make a positive contribution to the English Department in my administrative position in Undergraduate Studies. And, not least, I hope to do a good job raising my three wonderful children